Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 1, 2021

Biden calls Afghanistan exit a success, Texas' 6-week abortion ban takes effect, and more


Biden defends Afghanistan withdrawal as a success

As the Taliban celebrated the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Biden on Tuesday called the airlift of more than 120,000 Afghans, Americans, and other allies out of the country an "extraordinary success." He also defended his decision to stick to the deadline for withdrawing all U.S. troops to end the longest war in U.S. history. "I was not going to extend this forever war," Biden said in an address from the White House State Dining Room. "And I was not going to extend a forever exit." Biden said it was inevitable that it would be difficult to leave Afghanistan after 20 years. The Biden administration has faced harsh criticism for the chaotic evacuation following the Taliban's takeover of the country, and Congress is expected to hold hearings on what went wrong.


Texas 6-week abortion ban takes effect

Texas' ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy took effect on Wednesday after the Supreme Court declined to step in. Abortion providers in the state had asked the justices and a federal appeals court to block the law, which bars abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That typically occurs after about six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant. Court precedents have established the right to abortion until fetal viability at around 22 to 24 weeks. Texas abortion providers had argued that unless the courts prevented the law from taking effect, it would "immediately and catastrophically reduce abortion access in Texas," eventually forcing many abortion clinics to shut down. The Texas law is among the strictest in the nation. 


Report: U.S. reached secret deal with Taliban to get Americans to Kabul airport

The U.S. negotiated a secret deal with the Taliban under which the Islamist group now running Afghanistan agreed to escort Americans to the gates of the Kabul airport so they could leave the country, CNN reported Tuesday, citing two defense officials. U.S. special operations forces established a "secret gate" at the airport and "call centers" to help the Americans navigate the evacuation arrangement, one of the officials said. The Americans reportedly were instructed to gather at pre-arranged "muster points" near the airport, where the Taliban would verify their credentials and take them to a U.S.-controlled gate. The process helped the Americans get through despite crowds of Afghans trying to get into the airport to escape Taliban rule.


Officials urge evacuees not to return to some Louisiana areas hit by Ida

Louisiana authorities on Tuesday urged people who evacuated ahead of Hurricane Ida to hold off on returning home as more than a million people faced sweltering heat without power for a second day. The death toll from Ida, which hit the state's Gulf Coast on Sunday with 150 mile-per-hour winds, rose to four on Tuesday. Two people died in southeastern Mississippi on Tuesday when a highway collapsed due to "torrential rainfalls," the Mississippi Highway Patrol said. Another 10 people were injured. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said dangers continued, as "most people are injured and killed because of the response, not the storm itself." He said the damage in some areas was as bad as feared after one of the strongest storms ever to hit the state. "The damage that we have seen here and that they're dealing with is just catastrophic," Edwards said.


Texas GOP lawmakers pass voting restrictions 

Texas' Republican-controlled Legislature on Tuesday passed voting restrictions that were delayed for six weeks by a Democratic walkout. The state overhaul of election rules were part of a push by GOP-dominated legislatures around the country in response to false claims that ballot fraud cost former President Donald Trump the 2020 election. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) promptly signed the bill into law. The legislation could have a particularly strong impact in heavily Democratic Harris County, the nation's third most populous county and home to Houston. The law bans drive-through polling places, 24-hour voting, and other practices used last year to help people vote during the coronavirus pandemic. It also forbids election officials from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications.


Vaccination rates rose in August as mandates spread

Vaccination rates rose in August as COVID-19 cases surged, driven by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeffrey Zients said Tuesday. About 14 million people in the U.S. got their first vaccine dose last month, an increase of 4 million over the July total. Zients credited the increase to vaccine mandates imposed by governments, schools, and businesses. He noted that Washington state saw a 34 percent rise in its vaccination rate after it started requiring shots for state employees and school staff. "Bottom line," Zients said, "vaccination mandates work." The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said regulators' full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could push vaccination rates even higher.


Venezuelan opposition to end election boycott

Venezuela's opposition said Tuesday that it would participate in November elections, ending a three-year boycott. The main opposition parties said they would run candidates in elections for mayors and governors across the South American nation. Opposition leader Juan Guaido's Popular Will party is among the parties expected to participate, as is the party led by former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who has urged candidates to run. The opposition declined to participate in 2018 presidential and 2020 congressional elections, and said they were fraudulent. Politicians have called on President Nicolas Maduro's government to guarantee free and fair elections. The government has agreed to permit exiled politicians to run.


Man who confronted NBC reporter on live TV faces arrest warrant

Mississippi police on Tuesday issued a warrant for the arrest of an Ohio man who allegedly confronted NBC News' Shaquille Brewster on live television. Brewster was reporting on former Hurricane Ida for MSNBC in coastal Mississippi when a man pulled up in a white pickup truck and ran toward him, shouting at him to "report accurately." Gulfport police said the man was Benjamin Eugene Dagley, and he would face charges of simple assault, disturbing the peace, and violating an emergency curfew. He also could be charged with a probation violation in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, if authorities determine that he traveled out of Ohio without authorization, police said. Ohio court documents indicate that Dagley, 54, once pleaded guilty to vandalism, inducing panic, and attempted assault.


Jury selection begins in Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes' fraud trial

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes appeared in court Tuesday for jury selection on Day 1 of her criminal fraud trial. The onetime rising star of Silicon Valley is accused of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for allegedly making misleading statements to investors and patients about Theranos' technology. Holmes has pleaded not guilty. The defense team and prosecutors have a pool of nearly 200 potential jurors to find 17 to serve in what is expected to be a four-month trial. Court documents disclosed over the weekend that Holmes might argue that she deferred to Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, her former boyfriend and Theranos' onetime president, because she was in an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship with him. Balwani also was charged and pleaded not guilty.


Parents clash over mask mandate in Florida county

Lee County, Florida, sheriff's deputies had to break up fights between anti- and pro-mask parents outside a meeting where school board members reversed an earlier decision and reinstated a mask mandate for teachers and the 90,000 students in local public schools, local TV station NBC-2 reported Tuesday. Until the change, about 14,000 students were opting out of wearing face coverings by invoking a medical exception. Most of the parents who spoke at the Monday night board meeting were against the mask mandate. One man said masks hid children's identities and promoted sex trafficking. A woman, wearing a "My Body, My Choice" sticker, argued that masks do no good because kids don't wear them properly. A physician and mother of a student thanked the board for keeping "faculty and students" safe by requiring masks. She was "shoved" by protesters after the meeting, NBC-2 reported.


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